Florida Court Dismisses Negligence Case Against Psychiatrist, Citing Duty of Care – Tuten v. Fariborzian

One of the most important issues in a Florida negligence lawsuit is determining the “duty of care” owed by a defendant to a plaintiff. This legal term basically means that one party was obligated to act in a certain way toward another. As the First District Court of Appeal explains in Tuten v. Fariborzian, a plaintiff must first show that the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff before a court will consider whether the duty was violated.

James Tuten began receiving outpatient psychiatric treatment at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare in September 2007 and was voluntarily admitted after attempting suicide in November of the same year. Tuten was admitted to Meridian again in February 2008 – this time under the care of Dr. Alexander Fariborzian – after another suicide attempt. Fariborzian denied Tuten’s request to be released three days later.

Meridian then filed paperwork to have Tuten involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act, a state law by which a person may be temporarily detained for mental health evaluation and treatment against his or her will where the person is unable to determine for himself whether examination is necessary, and the individual is likely to pose a threat of harm to his or her well being without such evaluation or treatment.

Dr. Fariborzian’s opinion was used to support Meridian’s Baker Act petition. Yet, although a hearing on the petition was eventually scheduled for February 15, 2008, Fariborzian found on February 13 that Tuten was competent to seek release from the facility. The day after he was released, Tuten shot his wife and then killed himself.

Rebecca Tuten filed a wrongful death suit against Fariborzian and Meridian, arguing that Fariborzian breached his duty of care in finding that Tuten was competent to seek his release and that Meridian was negligent in discharging Tuten. The trial court granted the defendants motion to dismiss the action.

On appeal, the First District affirmed the lower court’s decision, finding that defendants were not obligated to keep Tuten at the facility pending the Baker Act hearing. The Court noted that commitment under the Baker Act required a showing that less restrictive measures are not appropriate. “Given the professional opinion of Dr. Fariborzian, the treating physician, that Tuten was competent enough to give or withhold consent for treatment, involuntary placement in Meridian would have been inconsistent with the [Baker Act’s] mandate,” the Court ruled.

Nor did the court find a common law duty requiring defendants to warn others of a danger posed by Tuten upon his release. To impose such a duty on psychiatrists, according to the Court, would demand a level of foresight or “clairvoyance,” which was simply not reasonable. “Thus, because the future behavior of a psychiatric patient is unknowable, under Florida law risk of harm is not foreseeable and therefore no duty exists to lessen the risk or protect others from the type of risk which a psychiatric patient might pose,” the Court held.

As this case makes clear, the term “negligence” has a very specific meaning when used in a courtroom, and the standard of care a court applies can vary widely based on the situation. The South Florida personal injury attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have vast experience bringing negligence claims on behalf of injured clients throughout the area, including in Coral Springs, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. If either you or a loved one were injured in an accident due to another person’s negligent behavior, call the Fort Lauderdale office for a free consultation. Anidjar & Levine’s negligence lawyers can speak with you about whether you might be entitled to compensation for your injury. You can call the office at 800-747-3733 today, or contact Anidjar & Levine online.

Related blog posts:

Proving Negligence in A Florida Personal Injury Lawsuit – Whyte v. United States Postal Service

In Florida, Recovery for Injury at Place of Business Depends on Notice – Peer v. Home Depot USA

Duty to Warn in Florida Products Liability Cases – Farias v. Mr. Heater